” Perhaps the most majestic feature of our whole existence is that while our intelligences are powerful enough to penetrate deeply into the evolution of this quite incredible Universe, we still have not the smallest clue to our own fate.” – Fred Hoyle.
We noted in the last post that despite good arguments in favor of free will, subjective experiences of situational limitations, helplessness, and unpredictability of personal action drive the human notion of fate. Today we will examine the metaphysical argument for fate.
The Stoic tradition starting with Zeno of Citium and continuing at least until the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius 500 years later understood the world as divinely ordered and humans as having free will, but accepted that the actual outcome of action is determined by providence. The Stoic premise for fate as the truth content of future statements is outlined by Simplicius in his discussion, On Aristotle’s Categories:
“concerning [pairs of] contradictories which bear on the future the Stoics accept the same principle as they do for other statements. For what is true of [pairs of] contradictories concerning things present and past is also true, they say, for future contradictories themselves and their parts. For either ‘it will be’ or ‘it will not be’ is true if they must be either true or false. For they are fixed by the future events themselves. And if there will be a sea-battle tomorrow, it is true to say that there will be. But if there will not be a sea-battle, it is false to say that there will be. Whether there will or there will not be a battle; therefore each statement is either true of false.”1
If the Stoics are correct that future statements can have a truth value, it follows that the future is fixed by virtue of that truth. Our actions may be free, but future truth implies we will simply choose the action that leads to the outcome or our choice of action will not affect the outcome.
Richard Taylor presents the case methodically:
1. Statements are true or false; there is no ‘excluded middle.’
2. Truth has nothing to do with time.
3. There exists a set of true statements about my life past and future.
4. The future of my life is fixed by those truths.
He then goes on to refute the counter-arguments. The absence of our ability to foresee the truth and the fact that true statements are not the cause of events are irrelevant in his opinion. The argument that this proof conflates fact and necessity is erroneous as no one has ever changed a true statement. Last the argument that facts are not true in advance is, he believes, arbitrary, resorted to only in an effort to eliminate fatalism.2
Here we find a fascinating and exceptional example of metaphysical and empirical concordance. Our subjective sense of fatalism is substantiated by our concept of truth. This conundrum is not easily escaped, but I think most likely rests on the fact that the truth of future statements is fundamentally different from those of past and present statements, but it is up to the reader to decide for herself. Next time we will look at some mythical and philosophical expressions of fate.
1Inwood, Brad and Gerson, L.P., Hellenistic Philosophy, Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., Indianapolis. ISBN 0-87220-041-8, page 129.
2Taylor, Richard, Metaphysics, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1974. ISBN 0-13-578468-9, pages 62-71.